Friday, 23 January 2009

Zola Skills In A Wales Shirt

Here's a nice piece about Jack Collison that merits a post. It's not often the Mail features a positive West Ham United article so I've placed it here for posterity.

West Ham star Jack Collison puts Zola skills in a Wales shirt
By Matt Barlow

When Jack Collison chose to play for Wales ahead of England it was all a matter of his family's sporting heritage. Collison may have been born in Watford, raised in southern England and barely visited the Principality before he became an international, but the West Ham starlet is related to a Welsh rugby legend.

John Gwilliam was captain of the teams who won the Grand Slam in 1950 and 1952 and Collison's mother Amanda descends from another branch of the Gwilliam family tree.

"You could say it runs in the family a bit," said the 20-year-old midfielder, who is keen to learn more about Gwilliam. The former No 8 is now 85 and lives in north Wales. "There's a book about him called The Gwilliam Seasons. I've read bits. I've never met him but my Mum's told me about him. She's Welsh so I wanted to play for Wales."

Amanda's father was also a keen rugby player but the game never tempted Collison.

"A bit rough for me," he grins. A series of composed displays for West Ham prove he has found the right sport for his talents.

Hammers manager Gianfranco Zola was thinking of sending Collison out on loan until he threw him on to replace Matthew Etherington against Manchester United in October. Three months later, Etherington has been sold to Stoke and Collison is a fixture in the team.

The Welsh dragon was already part of his life. Under 21 boss Brian Flynn had been tipped off about Collison's ancestry and made the trip to West Ham's Essex training base to pop the question, 18 months ago.

Collison went straight into Flynn's squad and was soon playing in a team who almost stunned England in the European Championship qualification play-off.

"As soon as Flynny came, my mind was made up," Collison said. "My Mum was very proud. She's been a massive part of my career. My Mum and Dad split when I was quite young and she was on her own at times bringing up me and my brother and sister. It must have been hard for her but I think we've all turned out all right."

Collison joined West Ham as a 16-year-old from Cambridge, who were forced to close their Centre of Excellence due to financial problems. The same thing had happened at the age of 12. He was at Peterborough but they closed down the youth system to save money.

A cheap joke about West Ham's own financial problems gets a laugh from Collison, but he has every right to be excited about the future, starting with Saturday's FA Cup tie at Hartlepool, live on TV. At least his days at Cambridge and Peterborough mean the culture shock of Victoria Park will not be too great.

It was Collison's Dad, Ian, who introduced him to football and the magic of Zola, as well as the defensive qualities of West Ham's assistant manager, Steve Clarke.

"My Dad was a Chelsea fan but he's made the switch now," said Collison. "I've given him a West Ham shirt. He gets stick off his mates. He's a roofer and I'd probably be working with him if I wasn't a footballer. We'd watch Chelsea back when it was John Spencer and Gavin Peacock. A bit later, Zola was there. I even saw Clarkey playing a few times. I remember Zola's goal against Norwich (in 2002) when the corner came in and he flicked it in. I watched it over and over again. I was blown away by it. It's one of those goals that will never get old."

The Zola repertoire is occasionally on show in training and Collison has been refining his skills with the help of his manager's personal tuition.

"He's been brilliant with me," said Collison. "He's spent a lot of time working after training on my technique. I'm hoping he's going to teach me a few free-kicks soon. Mostly he's given me confidence to play."

On another trip to Stamford Bridge, to support his friend Junior Stanislas, on loan at Southend from Upton Park, Collison found himself studying the movement of Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack for tips.

He analyses his own game closely and was disappointed with his debut, when he came on as a substitute at Arsenal last January.

"I felt I didn't give a good account of myself," he said. "But I feel a lot more settled now, like I'm improving with every game."

Steven Gerrard is another player he admires, although Collison's slender six-foot frame and poise on the ball will remind West Ham supporters of Michael Carrick, another West Ham Academy graduate.

Collison made his full Wales debut in a friendly against Iceland last May. He now has three caps and his rapid progress begs questions about how he escaped the attentions of the England youth set-up.

Never mind the next Gerrard, Lampard or Carrick, Collison could be destined to become the next Ryan Giggs, the man who inspired a generation of England fans to wonder what would have happened had he not chosen Wales.


JAMES TOMKINS- England Under 19 defender who made six West Ham appearances last season, the highlight being a start at Old Trafford. Spent a month on loan at Derby and is back covering for Matt Upson and James Collins.

FREDDIE SEARS- Joined West Ham as an 11-year-old having supported the club growing up. The England Under 19 striker (right) made an instant impact, scoring on his debut against Blackburn last season. Twelve more appearances this campaign.

JUNIOR STANISLAS- Creative midfielder (left) with impressive set-piece skills. Recently recalled from a three-goal loan spell at Southend, where he played on the wing in nine matches, including two FA Cup clashes with Chelsea.

JORDAN SPENCE- Yet to make his West Ham debut, but this promising central defender (right) captained England Under 17s to the quarter-finals of the youth World Cup in 2007, where he scored the winner against Brazil. One appearance on loan to Leyton Orient.

And an equally good one, this time from that bastion of simpatico pro-Hammers sentiment... the Daily Express.

Jack Is Pushing Right Buttons For Hammers
By Gideon Brooks

You could argue until you were claret and blue in the face about which tradition has its roots entwined deeper in the fabric of West Ham – bringing young talent through the ranks and into the first team, or selling it.

But long-suffering Hammers fans who have seen a title-winning side nurtured and exported down the years might be forgiven for exchanging nervous glances once again as the latest shoots of recovery begin to poke through the Upton Park turf.

Jack Collison is at the forefront of that new crop of talent beginning to blossom under manager Gianfranco Zola. But before the pessimists clear their throats, the midfielder who recently signed a five-year deal is adamant he could not be in a better place.

Collison has every right to a little swagger in his step at the moment. After being picked from Peterborough and Cambridge United youth football to sign trainee forms in 2005, he has progressed smoothly through the levels via reserves captain to first-team regular with barely a hitch.

As if he needed further emphasis that he is living a life most 20-year-olds might not even dare to dream, before this interview he was being paid to play a game of FIFA 09 against Hartlepool’s Gary Liddle ahead of their FA Cup meeting tomorrow.

He lost as it happens (Scott Parker missing his penalty in a shoot-out) but, as Collison pointed out without a hint of irony, lucky it was not real. “In reality, we have a good chance to go through on Saturday,” he said confidently.

Collison had options to join two other clubs aged 15, but insisted there was no question of going anywhere else once the Hammers moved for him.

He made his debut for Alan Curbishley on New Year’s Day last year. But while he credits both academy coach Tony Carr and former team-mate and fellow Wales international Craig Bellamy as “big influences”, it is the Italian manager who everyone calls simply ‘Mister’ that he insists has taken his game up a level.

Zola has given Collison one-on-one technical coaching since his arrival at the club in September. “Not bad is it? Classes from one of the most technically gifted players ever to play in this league,” he said with a smile.

“His enthusiasm for the game is superb and he can still can do it in training. In fact, he is one of the best players we’ve got. I’m not joking, he could pull a shirt on and play for us now and do himself justice.

“Some of the stuff he does makes us look silly. A few of the boys have tried to tackle him or had a go, but he just sidesteps past them.”

Such a positive assessment will do no harm to his chances of selection for today’s fourth-round tie against Hartlepool.

As if to emphasise that they always thought him a prospect, Collison was taken along by Alan Pardew “for experience” when West Ham played in the final in 2006.

He said: “I was 17 and got to have a kickabout in front of all the fans beforehand – it was such a great buzz and experience. But we have an opportunity on Saturday to stick ourselves in the next round and get one step closer to another final.”

Collison, uncluttered by the financial considerations that have lengthened faces in the boardroom, sees nothing but brightness in the future and predicts that more will follow him through the ranks from youth to first team. “Junior Stanislas will be the next one,” he said.

But it is an exciting thought that while Collison bids to emulate his hero Michael Carrick – albeit in his football progression and not that which took him through the exit door – there are already those in the academy set-up talking of emulating him.

Finally, if all that's not enough to satiate your frowzy Collison cravings then you could always watch the youngster talk about how he was in the stands at the 2006 FA Cup final - and how he hopes to help his side go one better this year.


Anonymous said...

Jack is one of my favorite players! I'm glad he's getting some news time.

Do you know if that video is somewhere else? because it won't let you play in unless you are in the UK.sad day

Trilby said...

Not that I'm aware of but I'll have a quick look around and see if I can locate it. Don't hold your breath though!


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